Why network slicing is the key to unlocking extended reality digital experiences (Reader Forum)
Imagine you’re shopping for furniture and using an Augmented Reality (AR) app on your mobile device to experience the products in your living room. Or your child is using a Virtual Reality (VR) headset to tour ancient ruins as part of their summer school class. You need new eye glasses, and instead of going to the optometrist’s store, you virtually try on glasses. The possibilities for immersive digital experiences today are exciting and endless.
In fact, IDC reports that spending on AR/VR is forecasted to grow from $12.0 last year to $72.8 billion in 2024 — an incredible growth rate of 54%. As mobile network operators (MNOs) balance diverse requirements from data-intensive extended reality applications while rolling out 5G, how can they optimize their network?
Slicing up the network for the 5G era
Unlocking new revenue streams for MNOs requires the ability to support multiple 5G use-cases and their unique network performance requirements. To do this, MNOs need to enable the delivery of customizable and guaranteed end-to-end performance across multiple physical and virtual domains in the wireless and wireline network domains. Enter network slicing.
This method of creating multiple unique logical and virtualized networks over a common multi-domain infrastructure, with each logical network provisioned to serve a defined use-case, creates new possibilities that fuel the next wave of mobile connectivity.
Critical capabilities such as speed, capacity, latency and availability can be customized in each slice to conform to a specific Service Level Agreement (SLA) so that digital experiences using mixed reality like gaming as well as smart homes and cloud-based collaboration is seamless and responsive.
Who wants a slice?
Network slicing isn’t a new concept, but it’s increasingly relevant as MNOs heavily invest in their 5G networks to support a wide variety of industries including healthcare, manufacturing, retail, utilities and more.
First, let’s look at smart cities. From millions of devices collecting real-time data on energy, weather, traffic and more, smart cities require reliable 5G wireless networks. For example, drones, which could be used for emergency response or monitor traffic, will require ultra-low latency to provide a near real-time response and high capacity due to high-resolution video streaming.
On the other hand, more traditional cloud-based services that will run the city’s social services will rely on fast data rates but won’t necessarily require low latency. Network slicing allows both use-cases to be run on the same physical infrastructure, and MNOs can generate revenue from each unique slice.
This split of high/low latency and high/low bandwidth use-cases can be mirrored in the private enterprise too. A smart manufacturer might need one network feature, like ultra-low latency, to automate parts of a production line or for tasks like autonomous forklifts where the connection must be responsive to ensure employee safety. This use-case can be accommodated by the Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (urLLC). However, elsewhere in its factory, the manufacturer may be running a range of Internet of Things sensors, which have low bandwidth requirements, where the massive device density can be supported by Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC) on 5G.
In a more consumer-centric scenario, major sports leagues could use network slicing to provide advanced AR and VR capabilities. Achieving such a service requires diverse technical features to ensure the experience doesn’t make users feel nauseous, and without network slicing, it’s near impossible to guarantee the ongoing bandwidth and latency requirements needed.
Automation is the secret sauce
With all these exciting use-cases, MNOs must ensure their networks are flexible and capable of dynamically slicing to meet the varied needs of different use-case and applications. Automation is a critical component of dynamic network slicing. To truly reap the benefits, MNOs will have to design and maintain tens to hundreds to thousands of network slices. They can’t manage this volume and variety of slices manually at the speeds required by their customers. Instead, end-to-end data-driven automation must be used to perform zero-touch slice lifecycle management dynamically at scale, and in real-time, as traffic load, service requirements and network resources change.
By rightsizing mobile connectivity for mixed reality use cases or otherwise with multiple virtual networks over a common physical network infrastructure, MNOs can quickly enable services, which are specifically tailored for each slice’s use-case. This means MNOs can offer much more specific and bespoke mixed reality services and generate more revenue from their networks.
Network slicing empowers MNOs to dynamically support multiple 5G use-cases and applications to unlock new revenue streams. SDN- and NFV-ready networks will open new and yet-to-be-developed use cases for MNOs to monetize their networks. The ability to guarantee network slices for essential services that need guaranteed performance will not only drive new revenue streams for operators, but also ensure the effectiveness of cutting-edge technologies to improve the lives of citizens.